In late February, I posted Aiming to increase newsletter subscribers? We have a plan for that!

In response, Vicki Campbell, from Washington County Extension commented:

Isn’t this the same information collected when someone fills out “Add me to your mailing list”, like on our web page and newsletters? I have never called it RFI but it does add the customer to our newsletter database. If not the same, how is this different?
Vicki Campbell
Washington County Extension

This is a great question and I want to expand on how we can expect an RFI (request for info) form to assist us in our Extension work where a newsletter opt-in (or subscription) may not.


(You’ll recall how in my last post I wrote about what an RFI form is for, but you can click here for a quick review)


It is important to begin by highlighting all the positive qualities of our Extension newsletters. The wide array of newsletters through which we currently serve our respective audiences are an important facet of a program’s or office’s outreach to constituents.

As a means by which to thoughtfully consider all the varied pieces of information and insight—there’s a lot, right?—you and your team can put out into the virtual world, the newsletter format allows you to curate them into a meaningful package. Nothing beats the convenience, low cost (do you recall the costs of printing and then distributing a paper version? What an ordeal!), and reliability of putting out precisely the info that your team considers the most important to provide.

A standard newsletter can (and will) continue to serve our Extension work in this way.

Yet we are also able to envision a future using other means—RFI forms being one—to begin collecting personal contact information of our constituent, then allowing us to follow up with big outreach efforts.

RFI—request for info—forms and our bright future

The main thing to consider is just as soon as we, using our shiny, new Navigator digital tools (more arriving each month!), begin to enable the collection and use of more-and-more specific personal information, then it follows how much more responsive we are able to be.

The goal is to offer constituents precisely what they really want to learn about.

The part of this discussion having to do with overall collection of information is multifaceted and nuanced, so in fact we won’t be able to cover all of it here. For the sake of beginning to talk about the future of our digital outreach, though, we will focus on RFI forms as one of the tools in our toolkit to collect increasingly detailed bits of a person’s information.

For the Navigator initiative, the shift expected of us is to consistently consider the deliverables of our respective programs from the point of view of each of our constituents, considering their needs and interests, above and beyond our perspective of what programmatic content we consider important at that time.

The important work of Extension… and getting even better!

This means our thoughtful consideration of what is/isn’t important information will remain a priority and also we will gain new ways—new tools, new techniques—to match up the breadth of what we can offer with the specific ways an individual can be served at any one point in time.

This is the personalized digital experience for which we have been planning.

Comparison: RFI forms and newsletter opt-ins

At long last… the answer to Vicki’s question about how these two techniques do differ allows us to review the unique strengths of each approach.

It’s worth reminding ourselves that each of these are valid techniques and they are useful for us to meet distinct goals we have in mind as we select between them.

As we explore this, some considerations revolve around the benefits we at Extension stand to receive (which does remain a priority), while others have considerably more to do with the user experience that constituents have as they interact with us virtually. We will evaluate our efforts as “successful” soon as we begin to hear from people how much fun they had navigating through their experience with us!

 

RFI (request for info) form Opt-in (subscribe) to newsletters
  • using an open text input field, RFIs are an opportunity for the person to speak up about what helpful info they need
  • which can (optionally) lead to a direct engagement with Extension faculty and/or staff
  • provides the means by which to rapidly deliver value to our constituents
  • the submitted info (data) is collected into one system
  • it’s designed to be aware which web page the person is on at the time
    • for example, a person who is actively reading the “2020 Bee School” page when they decide to click the RFI form tells us a bit about their interests… without them having to ever actually type that in
    • this personalized info—person “a” was viewing info from the Bee School—is saved into our system
  • in appropriate cases (events, e.g.) it’s also aware which county’s content the person is viewing at the time
    • upon providing their personal info, we know the county in which they themselves reside
    • then we compare—perhaps that person resides in the same county, perhaps not (maybe the next one over)
    • we gain the ability to intelligently match our promotion efforts for upcoming events to people who have shown interest in events for that county—regardless which county they live in
  • a slowly-evolving concept we can consider is responding to a portion of these inquiries with automated responses (where that’s both applicable and helpful)
  • performing a review of the analytics data is simple and easy as it lives all in one system
  • people can opt out at any time
  • collects just a person’s minimal contact info
  • the next touch point for the person depends on when the next issue goes out
  • Extension faculty and programs are able to curate the info going out to constituents—but is it the info they need most?
  • subscribes a person to one, specific, targeted facet of a program’s outreach efforts, but constrains us to communicate with that person in only that one manner (channel)
  • currently pushes the actual data to varied, disconnected resources from which one Extension office/program can’t acquire value from that of another office/program
  • currently pushes responsibility of performance analytics out to each individual office/program
  • people can opt out at any time

 


About the Navigator digital engagement team. For months now, many of you have heard from me as I produce a long-term CRM strategy for OSU Extension and non-credit learning. I look forward to talking with you and ensuring the CRM plans are in alignment with the business needs of your unit and the long-term vision of the university. The Navigator team is looking forward to talking with you about how digital engagement is aligned with your work and can provide new benefits.

 

Posted in CRM.

UPDATED 7/17/2020.

We have added a new focus area template to each county. Here you can share information on accessing food, health care, and financial assistance in your county.

Please change the information in the template to the relevant resources for your county. Then publish it. See details on how to make the updates below.

Screenshot of the focus area template:


To find your local focus area:

  • Login to the OSU Extension website
  • Visit your county landing page
  • In the sidebar towards the bottom, click the orange button “Return to group content list.”
  • Under the heading “manage content” — find “type” and select “local focus area.”
  • Click “apply.”
  • Look for “[count name] COVID-19 resources.”
  • Click edit

To customize your local focus area:

  • Review the information
  • Delete any information that isn’t relevant for your county
  • Add local contacts for the remaining relevant information (name and contact info for your local health department, etc.). Update the text within the brackets: “[[ ]]”
  • Publish the focus area

Display it on your county landing page:

  • Visit the “What we do” page on your county’s landing page
  • Under “Highlights” click “[Reorder Focus Areas]”
  • To change the order, click and drag the arrow icons in front of the focus area names to the desired location. The first five focus areas will show up on the county landing page.

Lately, people have been wondering how to share their recent Zoom recordings and handouts, and how to let communities know we’re still providing useful activities and resources. The website can play a part in this communication, alongside your emails, social media, newsletters and outreach to local media. We have some guidelines and examples and considerations to get you started and coordinated related to: Prepping recordings, Program pages, County pages.

County pages

The county landing page already is a spot to feature your current events, your newsletter and feature a few new pieces of content either from your county or statewide news and resources. You can also use announcements to share resources like Lincoln county.

This action of keeping your landing page fresh shows you are active. Featuring a couple pieces of new content could be done at the same time you are pulling together your newsletter.

If you have a lot of new resources, then keep your focus areas under “What we do” updated too. In addition to announcements, Lincoln county added a new focus area to encourage supporting local food, for example.

We’ve also had requests from other regions that they want one place to showcase all that’s happening across their program areas. In this case, an “Online resources and activities” focus area can be featured at the top of your What We Do section on your homepage.

Here’s an example that we will push out to counties later this week, which you can customize.

We want to elevate visibility and awareness of OSU Extension’s work with Oregon communities with particular focus on local and county-level impact and resilience in the face of COVID-19. Next week we’ll share another focus area template to help you in directing people on where to find local food, health and financial assistance too.

Program pages

Other than the event lists, program subpages are a good place to communicate with participants and volunteers in your program what new resources you have that they can do at home. The key is coordinating how these resources are added, although the design on the page can vary.

Here’s a short decision tree.

  1. Is the new resource only relevant to your local program in your county?
    1. Yes, add as a program resource to your local program group.
    2. No, see below.
  2. Is the new resource of interest to or being duplicated by other local programs in other counties?
    1. Yes, add as a statewide program resources and tag for the local county programs. This way it only needs to be updated in one place.
    2. 4-H Jackson county is an example that could be done this way since they have good resources that could be of interest to other 4-H county programs that are also adding new home activities subpages.
  3. Is the new resource of interest to other statewide programs and the general public?
    1. Work with related faculty to add through a content team as an educational material and tag for the program(s). This way it can show up on topic pages too.
    2. Oregon Master Naturalist is an example that shifted to this way.

Prepping and sharing your recordings

Content teams have shifted to giving virtual programming since the pandemic started. When giving your programming as a scheduled webinar, the recordings are posted in OSU MediaSpace within hours. You can use this recording in several ways, but there’s a few things you need to do first.

Make sure that you have informed attendees it is being recording and received the needed permissions from those attending. Please remember that recording meetings or events with youth is prohibited without express consent from their parent or guardians. See specifics on the Virtual Extension program delivery page.

To ensure we meet our ADA responsibility, please request captions for your Kaltura video, and proof and fix any issues. This will ensure the recorded content is as widely accessible as possible.

  • You may need to edit your Kaltura video to snip the beginning or end of your recording. You can find instructions here.
  • Check in if you have any branding for pre and post-production to be added.
  • Lastly you will need to share your video.

Once you have completed these steps, you can post the video on the website.

  1. Add the recording link to the event page (which can still be found by searching on the website after the event) along with any handouts. However, don’t share publicly “meetings”, especially that contain youth in the recording, on the website. See program delivery info on Zoom safety and security on our Virtual Extension website.
  2. Get the attendee list from your Zoom Oregon State report dashboard afterward and email it to them. Contact us for any questions on getting that list.
  3. Add the video on the related county focus area if the content is a webinar not meant for broader distribution (check with the appropriate content team first). See a Coos county example.
  4. See if faculty want to edit portions of the webinar to add as educational content through their content team. Visitors to the site often want quick answers not whole webinars when they find videos on the site.

You still want people to attend the program, rather than just wait to find the recording. The value of people attending the webinar live is that they can engage with you and other participants – a chance to ask questions and network. However, analytics on numbers of views of the recordings could be included in your Digital Measures reporting.

Web updates

It is important for our learners, stakeholders and funders to know that OSU Extension continues to actively serve, engage, respond and innovate during the COVID-19 pandemic—even while locations are closed and employees are working remotely.

To align with the current way we deliver services, we adjusted small but meaningful wording on the site:

  • We adjusted the emergency announcement from emphasizing we are closed to we are still here for you with related resources.
  • We made it clearer on the homepage how we are offering many online events from across the state.
  • We made sure that postponed events are now separate from active events.
  • We shared information on wearing a face covering on county sites.
  • We feature new resources on the homepage and COVID-19 topic page, like the new “Sewing cloth face coverings for beginners” educational gallery.

We also improved the speed at which you can enter and update content behind-the-scenes.

Across OSU Extension, email newsletters are used to educate, convey information to, and build trust and community with industry-specific, program-specific and general audiences. However, each newsletter within the division looks different, sounds different, provides varying levels of effectiveness and offers varying levels of brand alignment and accessibility.

There are best practices we all can adopt to improve the effectiveness and accessibility of our email newsletters. In the coming weeks, we’ll be rolling out Extension newsletter templates to make it easier to tell our stories better. These templates will be designed to work on MailChimp and Constant Contact platforms. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, adopt the following best practices and we’ll make significant strides in readability, effectiveness and accessibility.

10 Best practices to adopt now

1) Write engaging and informative subject lines.

This is the first opportunity to make your audience curious about the content of your newsletter. Try to limit the subject line to no more than 50 characters (including spaces). Check out these websites for guidance on writing engaging subject lines:

2) Make the preheader work for you.

Preheader text is the short line of text displayed next to or just below the email subject line when an email is viewed in the inbox. Preheaders are often overlooked opportunities to engage the reader and tell them more about what’s in the newsletter.

3) Build a clean list and remove unengaged email addresses.

If someone hasn’t opened any of your emails for a year or more, find out if they still want to receive your email newsletter. Send a “We miss you” email to see if they want to continue being a subscriber. A clean list will give you a more accurate email open and engagement rate.

4) Personalize your greeting.

Using the first name of your subscriber is more likely to capture the attention of the reader. This can be in the subject line or start the newsletter with “Dear {first name}.”

5) Keep content short, simple, personable and focused on the interests of the readers.

Think about what the payoff is for the reader. What’s the essential takeaway? How does the story reinforce the value of Extension to the community? Then write two or three compelling sentences as your lead-in to tease the reader into continuing to read the story by clicking on the call-to-action.

Limit the number of articles to three to five. Enough white space within the overall newsletter will make the newsletter easier to read. The Extension website is a good source for newsletter content: news stories, publications, event information and other content. Use links to encourage visits to the website.

6) Use compelling calls-to-action.

Instead of “click here” or “click this link,” use more actionable language, such as “Learn more,” “Download,” and “Register today.” If calls-to-action are images, use alternative text to make sure readers can click them even if images aren’t enabled.

7) Improve accessibility.

Increase font size to 12 to 14 point for body copy. Use the Georgia font for headlines and Verdana font for body text. Use alternative text to describe story images so that subscribers that disable images or those with disabilities know what you’re showing them. Do not use text over photos or PDFs embedded into the newsletters. Avoid text-heavy content.

8) Include links to social media sites.

This allows readers to share content easily. (And consider including a link to your newsletter in your email signature. Refer to email signature guidelines for the way to do it.)

9) Include an email signature.

People are more inclined to read and open emails if they come from a person rather than info@companyname or noreply@companyname.

10) Send your newsletters consistently.

Choose the frequency of the newsletter and settle on the day and time of delivery (this may take a little time to find the best day and time for open rates and click-throughs). Then stick to the schedule so your readers watch for and anticipate it.

Additional tips

Review metrics to see what content is of greatest interest to your audience.

During the Stay Home, Save Lives mandate and beyond, reinforce in headlines and body copy that OSU and Extension are here for our communities.

Set expectations when someone first signs up for your newsletter so that they know what to expect for frequency and type of content.

A/B test subject lines and calls-to-action between two groups of subscribers to learn what language creates a greater response. Read: Effective email marketing subject lines.

Segment your audience to appeal to their interests. The value of the content will be elevated if it’s of interest to the reader.

Add video and animated content to increase engagement with the reader. Also increase engagement and learn more about your readers by adding a quick poll.

Reinforce the personality of Extension with the tone of story selection and writing style. Personality characteristics for Extension are defined in the Extension Style Guide:

  • Collaborative – We’re better together
  • Conscientious – Aware, with integrity and conviction
  • Visionary – Creatively leading the way, taking on issues
  • Welcoming – Friendly, open to all and enriched by difference
  • Progressive – Pursuing innovative practices that lead to proven methods of thinking and doing
  • Helpful – Focused on service that meets the needs of our communities
  • Adventurous – Having the courage to seek out new solutions

 

Author: Ann Marie Murphy

 

Sources:

Virtual Extension

OSU Extension’s educational outreach teams — PACE, EESC and ECTU – are continually adding new resources and updates to the Virtual Extension site on the Extension Employee Intranet.

Virtual Extension complements OSU’s Keep Working and Keep Teaching websites, with information specific to our Extension and Engagement context. The website features a list of resources to help you:

Virtual Extension was featured on this week’s First Monday video.

The Virtual Extension team seeks your feedback, and for you to share your needs and ideas so we can work together through this current situation and position us for even more ways to serve Oregonians in the future. Let's talk button

OSU Extension Professional Development & Connection Opportunities

Starting this week join us for daily Zoom training sessions.

  • Marketing Mondays
  • Technology Tuesdays
  • Water Cooler Wednesdays
  • Teaching Thursdays
  • Financial Fridays

 

Extension Website Training

Wednesday April 8  8:30-10:30

Join us for a special 2 hour session for all staff and faculty who currently work on the Extension website or would like to start. This training will include an overview of Extension’s web strategy initiative, a tour of the website, and demos and Q&A based on audience interests.

Presented by: Victor Villegas, Technology & Media Support; Michele Scheib, Content Strategist; Bryan Mayjor, Web & Content Strategy Leader; Tamara Hill-Tanquist, Web Designer; Amerie Lommen, Web Developer

Join via Zoom

 

Kudos

We’d like to give a big shout to Washington County’s Jenifer Halter who posted tips for searching the Extension website.

 

Zoom Security

Learn how to properly configure your Zoom Meetings to prevent Zoombombing.

 

Web updates

The events content type has two new features:

  1. Zoom meeting information. You can now add Zoom link, meeting ID, and phone-in numbers
    Fields available for zoom events
  2. Event status. You can now add the status to events.
    screenshot showing status options

Online events now have a dedicated page. A link to the Upcoming Online Events can be found on the Statewide Events page.
onlne events list image

While people across Oregon and the world practice social distancing in response to COVID-19, they will continue to stay connected via social media. 

Since March 1, around the time the first COVID-19 case was discovered in Oregon, traffic to the Extension website from social media has risen by about 8% compared to the previous period, and we expect to see it continue to rise as our offices around the state begin to use social media more heavily. 

Learn what content has been working well when shared on social media. This can help you make your social media posts more effective.

Where is content shared?

On many pages on the Extension website, there is a “Share” button that visitors can use to easily share the page to social media, email it to someone, or save it to a bookmark service. In analytics, we can see the platforms where people have shared our pages.

Here are the shares since January 19, 2020. The following stats only include visitors who have used the “share” button on the page. We cannot determine how many people have shared a page manually.

  • Facebook: 140 shares
  • Twitter: 12 shares
  • WhatsApp: 9 shares
  • LinkedIn: 4 shares
  • Reddit: 2 shares
  • Tumblr: 1 share

We can also get an idea about how often our content is shared on various platforms by looking at how many times people arrive to our site from those platforms. In total, people arrived to our site from social media 10,074 times. The most common platforms people arrived from were:

  • Facebook: 9,398
  • Pinterest: 242
  • Twitter: 176
  • YouTube: 53
  • Instagram: 29

What this means for you

  • Facebook is by far the most common place where our content is shared. If your county/program does not currently have a Facebook account or doesn’t use it regularly, consider creating one or becoming more active.

What kind of content is shared

Similar to the above, we can look at the pages where visitors most often used the “share” button to share content to social media:

  1. Coffee Grounds and Composting: 26 shares
  2. Clackamas County 4-H Tack and Bake Sales: 10 shares
  3. Monthly Garden Calendars: 9 shares (all months)
  4. Rural Living Day 2020: 4 shares
  5. BBB Exercise Tutorials: 4 shares

We can also see where on the site people most often arrived from social media platforms:

  1. Put rose pruning and planting on the calendar: 309 times
  2. When to start seeds indoors in Oregon: 304 times
  3. Coffee Grounds and Composting: 302 times
  4. Branding: OSU working to settle the debate of the ages: 281 times
  5. Are there male and female peppers: 268 times

What this means for you

  • Educational content is the most commonly shared type of content. Especially during this social distancing period, consider including more educational content in your social media presence.
  • Content that tends to be popular is ones that address timely seasonal topics (such as gardening in the springtime), “hot” or “highly-discussed” issues in an industry, and “myth busting” content.
  • Events are also fairly commonly shared. If you are putting on an event (including virtually), be sure to advertise it on your social media and encourage others to share it. 

How effective is sharing content

To see if visitors are engaged with the content on our website, we often look at our website’s statistics.

  All website visits Website visits starting  from social media
Percentage of people who viewed only one page 65.76% 69.12%
Number of pages visitors saw when visiting our site 1.82 pages 1.55 pages
Average length of time people visit our site 1 minute 42 seconds 1 minute 17 seconds

This shows  when people arrive on the Extension website from  social media, they tend to not stay on the site as long as people who arrive from other means.

What this means for you

  • When you share content on social media, make sure that the page you share includes a “call to action”. For example, on an article like “Put rose pruning and planting on the calendar”, you might add a statement to the end of the article, such as “Find your local county Extension office to see when rose pruning classes are offered in your area.”

As you think about ways to engage the public from a distance, there’s new visual features on the website to try out. If you need quick ideas to fill out your newsletters, then a tool coming soon will give you ready-to-go content teasers and photos to use. Finally, we give a few tips about sharing coronavirus updates and content on the website.

New tools to try out for digital delivery of information

You often get asked how to identify a plant, a spider or many other things that people encounter in their homes or fields. Or how to build a raised bed or landscape wall. Content teams that need to share identification photos and descriptions, or step by step instructions, can do so in the new virtual “educational gallery” content type.

Learn more about how to set up an educational gallery in our web guide.

If what you need to share is more text than visual-based, then programs and projects also have the option to add collapsible page sections to their subpages. This helps people see the process at a glance, and expand to read more.

Here’s information in our web guide on how to add page sections.

In the coming weeks, our outreach may rely on our social media and newsletters for ways to engage with and deliver information to our communities. If you postpone or cancel an event, maybe there’s some good content online on the same topic to share in the meantime. When you log in to the Extension website, you will soon be able to access a “content bank”.

This will be an easy way to find existing web or video content that meets a need (e.g. blueberries is the top search on our site this week), and be able to download a photo, URL and short blurb you can share. This directs people to read the full article online.

Once this is ready, the content bank will be found on your My Groups page when logged in.

Also, check out the Virtual Extension webpage for other ideas. It is a growing resource! EESC will continue to solicit from across Extension more shareable content and engagement suggestions to share on this page. We’ll also continue to add tutorials, such as on how to do a video from your smartphone or set up Facebook Live, and the best situations to use those tools.

Adding web updates related to COVID-19

An emergency announcement appears in red across the top of Extension website pages to let the public know of recent decisions.

If you have specific updates for your county or program, then you can add a regular announcement that will show in an orange bar across your page. Make the title specific, so when people search the site the announcements are distinguishable.

Your county pages office hours now indicate that offices are not open to public traffic but that you can be reached via phone or email during regular business hours.

On event pages, you have a standard COVID-19 statement too that you can change as you know more about if the event will be postponed, canceled or done virtually.

The homepage directs people to the CDC fact sheets on handwashing and other important information in English and Spanish. If content teams add videos, web articles, or online resources from other places on hand-washing and topics related to Extension’s work, please select the keyword “COVID-19” so it can be compiled in searches. We may add a new tag, collection page or other ways to gather the information down the road.

You can always contact us through our beav.es/extension-support request system if you have a question along the way.

Oregon Master Naturalist is an excellent example of a statewide program using the website layout. Kudos to Jason O’Brien!

Let’s take a look:

These are some of the things we love

The landing page has:

  • A lush and inviting photo
  • Engaging information about the program.
  • Titles and text are user-friendly and help potential participants identify if they would enjoy and benefit from the program.
  • An enthusiastic testimonial video
  • Stories sharing the heart of Oregon Master Naturalist
  • Straight-forward sidebar navigation

Other pages

Become a Master Naturalist

Volunteer

  • Great impact statistics for Master Naturalist volunteers. These were added using the new “impact stats bar,” available for programs and counties.
  • Easy to find exciting volunteer project ideas

What is the cost?

  • Easy to understand the cost and financial options.

What you can do now

Review your program pages. Is there anything you can do to improve the text or images based on the example above? See instructions for updating program content.

Please contact us with any questions.


Web updates

These are some new features:

  • You can tag an event with a project. Then add a “project events list” to your page to display them.
  • You can add a “project faculty/staff list.” Contact us to add users to display on a project.
  • You can override the title of a piece of content selected for a “highlighted content item” page section.
  • You can now specify what text shows when county event lists have no events to show.

The about us section on the website has new information, including a new career opportunities page.

 

We write so that others will read.

No matter what we write — an email, a newsletter article, a research paper — we want people to read it and understand.

The key to understanding isn’t some complex formula. It’s actually quite simple: a form of writing called “plain language.” Plain language conveys meaning in short, spare sentences and simple words. Plain language is:

  • Accessible. Plain language helps us reach everyone, including people with learning or other disabilities, people whose first language is not English, and people who may be reading online while feeding a toddler and waiting on hold with the cable company.
  • Active. In active voice, the subject of the sentence performs the action: “The mouse ate the cookie,” not “it is believed the cookie was consumed by the mouse.”
  • The law. Government agencies like the IRS and the state of Oregon have adopted plain language guidelines. OSU websites should follow web accessibility guidelines, including those on readability.

There’s an app for that

Oddly, it’s hard to write simply.

Thankfully, some great new tools can help us measure and improve the readability of our text. One we like is called Hemingway Editor.

Start with a rough draft. Call up Hemingway in your browser, and copy and paste your text into the home screen. You’ll see a screen like this:

Zero in on the figure that denotes the reading level of your text. If it’s ninth grade or higher, start working your way up the Hemingway rainbow:

  • Clean up everything in light red. Cut unnecessary words. Divide complex sentences in two. Sub in some active verbs.
  • After pink, tackle yellow.
  • Re-check the reading level. Is it lower? Good job.
  • If the reading level is nine or above, keep working. Most audiences — including academics — prefer to read at an eighth grade level or below. Great writers like Jane Austen, Ernest Hemingway and J.R.R. Tolkien all wrote at the seventh grade level or below.

Make reading easy

Many readers today don’t read but instead scan written material. They’re looking for solutions in a hurry. Here are some ways to help these readers out:

  • Avoid long paragraphs. Long blocks of gray text turn readers off. Limit your paragraphs to one topic — about three sentences.
  • Use bulleted lists instead of long sentences filled with commas.
  • Use bold-faced lead-ins and subheads to help readers scan your text to find what they are looking for.
  • Read it out aloud. Before turning in anything to an editor or colleague, read it out aloud. You’ll be surprised how many awkward phrases you’ll find to revise.

Writing is hard, but reading doesn’t have to be. Use the tools of plain language to tell your story, and your readers will thank you.

Editor’s note: This article is written at a fifth-grade level.

More blog posts to come:

  • Science writing simplified: improving the readability of complex topics
  • The ABCs of acronyms
  • Tempting titles that click with readers

Authors: Janet Donnelly and Jim Sloan

Add a new “RFI” form to web pages

RFI stands for a Request For Information. A RFI form is a simple way for an organization to give constituents a chance to ask questions or otherwise reach out to us to learn more about an event, topic, etc. Soon as someone reaches a spot in our website where they’re interested in something but need to learn more about it, a button click pops open a simple web form (see the example later in this post).

It’s here they enter their personal information and that is saved into our system. That activity is accompanied by an automated email notice that arrives to the right person in Extension. For example, users can provide their name and email address and the process will add them as a new subscriber to one of your newsletters.

How is this useful?

A web form allows us to collect and manage information from constituents easily and efficiently. The forms are embedded right into relevant places on your website, which makes it easy for your audience to provide their information.

As soon as somone completes the RFI form, their information is stored until it’s ready for analysis.

Meanwhile, in the same step we are able to offer a chance to subscribe to some type of digital communications, such as newsletters. This can become a crucial tool for you to obtain new audience members eager to hear what you have to say.

What we’re poised to learn about our audiences

We can use the Extension website as a quick case study for how to employ RFI forms, however the premise works similarly on other websites.

When a visitor to this Oregon Master Beekeeper Program page stops and takes the time to fill out our RFI form on this specific page, we consider it an opportunity to infer some small bits of information about this person.

In the actual, real-life implementation of this premise, we would in fact engage directly with the right people inside each program to actually be very thoughtful about what inferences we’d plan to make about any one visit to any one particular page—for example, an analysis of the content of the page will support being able to draw certain conclusions or not.

For example, if the page content includes info on bee colony health, but does not have any info at all on honey production, we would want to consider if the visitor’s interest in this page revolves around bee colonies due to the ability to produce honey or, rather, in terms of bees as pollinators.

Clearly, we want to consider our options very carefully when forming these types of conclusions.

 

AND… What about a page that has a specific call to action?

Well, I am so glad you asked! 🙂  Let’s look at a page that’s aimed at cultivating interest in a specific thing—like an event.

To the right, you see a page I navigated to from the Events tab on the Master Beekeeper program page. If a normal website visitor made their way to this page, we can begin to make inferences about them at another level of specificity and accuracy.

We know the ultimate goal of this event’s organizers is to have viewers click on the “Register” button, but what about anyone who is feeling interested in the event while still not being quite ready to register? What can we do for that person?

The answer would be to provide an RFI form—simply a second button which would allow them to ask any question about the event for which they don’t already have an available answer.

After submitting this RFI form, the inferences we can make about their interests are far more specific. We know they want to attend an event. And not just any event, but this particular event with this event’s specific content. Arguably, there’s a lot to work with in this use case.

The impact on newsletter subscriptions

The question, then, is how does this help to build up our list of subscribers? The exact details of the plan continue to be sorted out, but the goal is to begin to understand how the inferences we were just talking about can help us point people to digital communication options—newsletters being one of those options—that are of significant interest to them.

Soon as the data lands in our database from the successful processing of an RFI form, we know for certain we want to send that person an email with a simple “thank you” message, because we want to provide an immediate reward to them for taking the time to fill that thing out. It’s important to do this.

In addition to our “thanks” message, there’s room in the body of that same email to appeal to them with a subscription (opt in) opportunity to newsletters. Thus, taking into account the opt-in opportunities that already exist, then adding in all of those people who submit RFI forms, we can see that as a pathway to adding more contacts to our lists.

Example of an RFI form

Check out this straightforward example of an effective web form.

It is true that the form can be designed to ask additional questions, however we know from numerous usability studies that the shorter a web form is the more likely our average website visitors will actually stop and fill them out.

Our #1 goal will be to increase our ability to engage with our target audiences, which means that simply garnering their direct email address—thus facilitating being able to digitally communicate with them—is our top priority.

Conclusion

An RFI web form will help you add new contacts to your contact lists, track topics in which people are interested, follow up with constituents, enhance users’ experience, and provide Oregonians with the information and expertise for which they are searching.

A web forms should be straightforward, simple, and visually appealing. And it should communicate to the viewer exactly what they can expect to receive in exchange for their valuable time they will spend filling it out. This is how you will ensure a professional, user-friendly experience on your website.

A successful RFI form will lead to an increase in your number of contacts and engagements. So, why not get started working with the Navigator team to help you grow and expand your network today?

 


About the Navigator digital engagement team. For months now, many of you have heard from me as I produce a long-term CRM strategy for OSU Extension and non-credit learning. I look forward to talking with you and ensuring the CRM plans are in alignment with the business needs of your unit and the long-term vision of the university. The Navigator team is looking forward to talking with you about how digital engagement is aligned with your work and can provide new benefits.

Extension website updates.

  • People in county and program groups can tag or untag themselves from events entered through other groups. Go to the event page and go to the “Modify tags” tab at the top of the page.
  • All users can now tag themselves with languages they speak and have it shown on their profile. The language options are fairly limited right now initially, but you can submit a support ticket to get other ones added.
Posted in CRM.